Monday, August 29, 2016
It's been a rough August.
I saw something on the interwebs that very nearly crushed my soul completely.
I was preparing to stick a blog post on the facebook. For some reason that seemed like a good idea, putting old post up on fb. Reach a few more people, steer folks to the blog, increase traffic.
I scrolled down the "news feed" to see what all the batshit crazy fb posters were up to and a video began to play.
Just another execution video. Buncha goat fucking aloha snackbars with ak's, a long, long line of victims on their knees facing east with a brand new sunrise illuminating the last moments of their lives.
They were kids.
Not babies, but kids. Probably 10-15. Not 10-15 kids, 10-15 years old. There were more than 200 of them.
I couldn't believe the comments. Many were filled with foaming-at-the-mouth hatred. Unsurprising. A hell of a lot of them had twisted this evil deed into campaign invective. Trump and Hillary.
There was a time when most Americans had done at least a bit of serious thinking about the proposition that all men are created equal. That time is long past.
I'm just one guy out on the ass-end of nowhere, and I don't know everybody, but I believe that the people I do know and interact with on a daily basis are pretty representative of good ol', hard working (ahem), middle class America. Most of them do not believe, and have not seriously thought about, that proposition. They know the words, and know that they are "supposed" to agree. But nearly to a man and woman, they each have a long list of yabbuts.
When I say that most do not believe, I don't mean 51 percent. I mean almost all of them. I mean 99 percent. There's your real 99 percent, America. Straight from Lord of the Flies. Feral children who honestly believe they can pick and choose those who are human beings and those who are only objects to be used and discarded.
Your friends and neighbors, for the most part, wear only the thinnest skin of civilization, and they wear that only because they fear the immediate consequences of going full animal; fear being shamed and landing up in a jail cell with bubba the friendly butt plumber.
When I get the chance to talk in some depth to people there's almost always a moment, after we've put the yabbuts aside for the moment and gotten down to basics, where I detect a dim light in the eyes and hear, "I never thought about it that way."
Good god, that's frightening.
It's also the only hope we really have for civilization to continue. People have the ability to be honest and the ability to reason. Honest, reasoning people cannot deny that all humans are human.
And that's all we got.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Dogs eat grass?
The other day Nona the Wonder Dog was mooching about eating grass. She'd sniff and sniff, tracking back and forth across patches of seemingly identical grass, then having found what she was looking for, tear up a mouthful of greenery, chew it with slobbery delight, and swallow it down.
A little while later she'd throw it up, give it a good sniff, roll in it, then begin the process anew.
Yesterday she was dragging her butt across the ground, which made me say, "shit, she's got worms." Worm pills cost $40 a pop, so I am not a big fan of worms. Though to be fair, parasites gotta make a living too.
Then I noticed that she had a long stem sticking out of her backside. I know that's icky, but so what?
"C'mere," I said, and she wiggled on over to be examined. I grabbed the stem and pulled it out. No, I did not don hazmat gear, nor did I glove up. What I extracted from her colon was a completely (more or less) intact western salsify stem and flower.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. Icky. Butt (see what I did there? Cue sophomoric giggle) pretty cool if you beat the icky cooties into submission and think it through.
Dogs have a very simple gut compared to humans. It's a carnivore gut, optimized to extract nutrients from flesh and bone and sinew.
So the same gut that can break down big chunks of bone can also leave a stemmed flower intact.
Why is that?
Most likely it's because the canine gut isn't designed to handle plant material, and is probably designed to quickly evict such material if it happens to be ingested.
That's my working hypothesis.
So if dogs are carnivores, why do they eat grass (and flowers)?
You often hear that they do it to purge their gut, and that's certainly a possibility. But it's only a possibility. It's just as likely that grass and other plants contain micronutrients which the dog gut can extract and put to use.
There's a bit of an important lesson about understanding nature here. Sorry to be pedantic, but there's no way to know for certain why dogs eat grass. We could do a big study, analyzing dog guts and plant nutrients, and probably come up with a solid theory matching nutrient to need, and say that we have a good idea about why dogs sometimes hit the salad bar.
But we won't know for sure. We're not dogs, we can't get into their minds, let alone understand their canine drives and thoughts and ideas. We can match things up and find interesting correlations, and with enough rigorous study gain a very good understanding of dog physiology and nutrition and metabolism.
This has been done many times. You can look it up.
But you will never find anything more than a theory (or set of theories) regarding the consumption of plant matter by canines.
As it turns out, we humans are not omniscient. That's a good thing to keep in mind.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
"When is it okay to kill a person?"
I was helping to teach a concealed carry class. I'm not a certified instructor but as a successful graduate of the course and a CCW permit holder I'm a qualified range officer.
"When you're in fear of your life," came the rote response, a chorus in six-part harmony.
"Any other ideas?" I asked.
They came up with a good list. If you're helping a police officer in a gunfight. If you're protecting someone else. If you're a designated security officer for your church. If it's a terrorist attack. To stop looting. If it's war and you're a sojer.
They came up with quite a few more.
The list they came up with was a laundry list of legal and moral/ethical justifications for the taking of human life.
But that wasn't what I asked for.
Most of the four or five readers of this blog have served in the military, and are probably familiar with the phrase RTFQ.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Now you could argue that my question was a trick question. We were, after all, at a CCW class, where there is a proper emphasis on the legality of the use of justified force.
But if you're an American -- a real American rather than someone who happens to live here -- you have to believe in all those stupid old white-guy words from the Declaration of Independence. It's not optional. That's just the way it is, no matter how twaumatized and victimized the tee-vee says it should make you feel.
So what's the answer then? When is it okay to kill a person?
And that's not what the rest of this post is about. It's just food for thought.
A good time for thinking, IMO, as the rest of the nation prepares to appoint Clump (CLinton-trUMP) dictator.
I'm blessed to live in the wide open spaces of the Nebraska Panhandle, and I'm a lottery winner in the sense that I'm one of the relatively few Americans who own a substantial chunk of land.
I get to not only visit nature on a daily basis, but to control how humans tread the ground there. Our ranch exists pretty much unchanged from the way nature put it together, so it makes an excellent classroom for observing, learning and discovering nature's manifold wonders.
You don't have to be a rancher to experience and enjoy nature though. Nature is everywhere, even in the heart of burned out dee-troit. And quite often the interface between human and non-human nature is fascinating.
A lot of people seem to think that nature is supernatural and shot through with mysticism and magic. You can use those words as colorful adjectives when writing about or describing nature (as indeed I do from time to time), but there is nothing mystical or magical or supernatural about nature. Nature is natural.
But enough of that.
Yesterday was hot and muggy. I wasn't feeling all that great, a little creaky, a little weary. I had a lot of chores on my plate and a lot of little things needed adjusting or addressing or fixing.
As I was driving through the farmyard a familiar shape caught my eye.
Pituophis catenifer sayi. Bullsnake.
A big healthy one. Just a skosh more than four feet long. He was basking in the morning sun, soaking up warmth to rev up his ectothermic metabolism.
I grabbed my camera and snapped a couple of pics but he quickly slithered off into the kochia. I'd have liked to grab more images but nature seldom puts my desires first, so I tipped my hat to the snake and got on with the day.
In the evening, about 6:30, my brother showed up. He was passing through on a mission to relocate his son from summer employment to kollidge dorm and planned to borrow a pickup and trailer.
I saw him coming down the lane from the county road and walked out to greet the arrival, but for some reason he stopped his car. After a few moments his stepson Austin from Boston (That's a reference to Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H. The book, not the anti-American screed of a television show) stepped out of the car.
At about the same time I saw the reason my brother had stopped. There was a bullsnake crossing the road.
Bullsnakes are pretty snakes. They are long and proportionally slender, particularly when compared to rattlesnakes, which are short and fat. The ones I've seen are creamy yellow underneath and have big ovalish blotches down the back and sides. The blotches are black, olive, russet, and often have a splash of dusky red. Near the tail the blotches become circumferential bands of black, giving the last 6-8 inches a striped appearance. The tip of the tail is pointed and black and, of course, completely lacks rattles.
The bullsnake's head tapers to a smooth, blunt point, unlike the rattlesnake which has a triangular head that is thicker at the base than the diameter of the body. The bullsnake has eyes placed more on the side of the head than the rattlesnake, which has its eyes placed in a more forward location. This makes sense, if you think about it, because the rattlesnake has to make precision strikes and thus needs good near vision with excellent depth perception. The bullsnake has round pupils, while the rattlesnake has vertical slit pupils. The bullsnake also lacks the characteristic facial "pit" characteristic of pit vipers.
Superficially the bullsnake looks a little bit like a rattlesnake. The patterning is rather similar but only at first glance, and the coloring of the patterns is quite different. Other than similar patterns and the complete lack of legs, the two are quite different.
Bullsnakes are colubrids, which comprise the largest family of snakes. They are non-venomous. While they have teeth, sharp and angled to the rear to assist in swallowing prey, they do not have the hinged fangs of viperidae such as rattlesnakes. Rather than using venom to immobilize their prey, bullsnakes are powerful constrictors. They grab their prey and wrap themselves around it, squeezing until the prey suffocates.
When confronted with humans, bullsnakes behave very differently than rattlesnakes. Bullsnakes take an active -- seemingly aggressive -- defensive posture, rearing up, hissing loudly, and lunging in mock strikes if the human approaches too closely. The bullsnake will also hold its tail to the ground and vibrate it which can produce a sound similar to the rattle of a rattlesnake, particularly if the vibrating is done in dried grass or leaves. This exaggerated posturing appears to be an attempt to imitate the rattlesnake and fool potential threats into believing the bullsnake is more dangerous than it is. It's a good tactic.
In contrast the rattlesnake generally raises it's tail in warning, and rattles it if it senses a threat. The rattlesnake will coil and raise its forward third into an "s" shape as it prepares to strike, and this is a posture that the bullsnake often imitates.
Austin and brother Matt were both quite pleased to see the snake. As Austin watched me fish out my camera and take pictures, the big snake slithered directly toward me. As he approached, he reared his head and hissed, and all the wile he was vibrating his tail madly. Even though the intellectual part of my brain understood, expected, and was prepared for the snake's behavior, the primitive part of my brain experienced a real chill of fear.
After demonstrating his aggressiveness, the snake seemed to calm down a bit and seemed to relax as we moved a bit closer to take pictures. He kept a close eye on us but seemed to be comfortable coiled in the short, freshly mowed kochia. Mom joined us, and though she generally dislikes snakes, opined that it's nice to have a bullsnake around to keep the mice in check. She thought he was a pretty snake too. For a snake, anyway.
"This is the first snake I've ever seen," said Austin. "Well, besides a dead one."
I thought about that, and about how blessed we are to live surrounded by plain nature rather than the artificiality of human building.
We strolled over to the garden and admired healthy vegetables, along with a thriving crop of healthy "weeds." I kept an eye on the snake and after a few minutes he slithered across the farmyard, heading toward the area where I'd seen a bullsnake in the morning. Most likely it was the same snake, as both bullsnakes and rattlesnakes are rather territorial.
The territoriality of such snakes is interesting, for when winter approaches and cold weather sets in, they will all den up together until spring. Bullsnakes, rattlesnakes, gartersnakes and others.
When they den up, they'll be joined by their offspring, the young snakes which came into being this season. Rattlesnakes bear live young in June and July, while bullsnakes lay eggs which hatch in July and August.
As the sun began to sink in the west and the air temperature began to fall I felt a warm sense of satisfaction and happiness. It was a good day.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
As the big carrier plowed through gentle Mediterranean swells, I was on the flight deck. My memory is foggy about the exact date, but it had to be my first deployment. I do remember that it was a fine day, with that lovely Mediterranean sunshine casting sparkles across the pale blue sea.
I don't remember if there'd been an announcement over the 5MC, but I do remember gazing aft and watching a ship approach.
It was the enemy, a Soviet Kashin Class destroyer. If she continued on her course she would pass up the port side of the carrier. Close.
|Like this, only closer. USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) with Soviet Kashin Class destroyer, 1967. Wikipaedia.|
I was standing somewhere in the vicinity of JBD 4, and there was a crowd of Roof Rats lining the port side of the flight deck.
The destroyer steamed past with about a five knot advantage. A sharp looking, pretty ship, obviously powered by big gas turbine engines. Gun turrets fore and aft, just ahead and behind twin missile launchers. Twin lattice masts amidships. Bridge ahead of the foremost, sensor tower aft of the rearmost. I could pick out acquisition, guidance and illumination radars. Between the lattice masts a big pair of exhaust stacks, port and starboard, repeated with slightly shorter stacks aft of the sensor tower. Between the forward stacks and sensor tower torpedo tubes and ASW weapons. A real, serious, capable warship. One we might have to fight if Jimmy or Leonid went off their meds.
|Kashin Class Destroyer. Source: Wikipaedia|
As the ship drove past I noticed a lot of sailors on her deck. Our guys were waving, and a few enterprising airdales even threw thick-skinned Mediterranean oranges from their tasty (?) box lunches across the narrow gap. The Soviet blueshirts Just looked at us; none that I saw returned a wave. Maybe a cultural thing. Maybe the threat of a Siberian vacation. Who knows?
But the thing that really struck me, out of the blue and with surprising force, was that those guys were people. Just people. I didn't see a single ogre munching on a baby. Maybe they were below?
For some reason the clear humanity of the Ivans irritated me. They're the enemy, dammit! You're supposed to be able to tell. The evil is supposed to be obvious!
Funny how the mind works. Seeing real live Soviet sailors flashed me back to my even-youngsterhood. I was watching a show about Japan on PBS. Maybe 1966? I knew all about Japan and Pearl Harbor and the dirty Kamikazes. But PBS was showing me something else. Normal people in normal towns doing normal things. Just people. But they're the enemy, aren't they? Shit! How does this war thing work anyway?
A few years later, very early 1970's. We get the word from Mom and Dad that we're going to have a Japanese exchange student live with us for the summer. When he arrived he was a scrawny little shrimp, probably 12 years old or so. He came to Kimball with a handful of other Japanese kids of about the same age, each of whom stayed with a different family.
His name was Kazuhiro Suzuki. He was from Nagasaki. He did not glow in the dark, we checked.
|Kazuhiro Suzuki with his little brothers, Nagasaki, circa 1970.|
|Kazuhiro and his dad.|
|Kazuhiro with his mom.|
Kazuhiro didn't habla much Anglais, and we nihonjin no shigoto o hanasu koto wa arimasendeshita. Well, I knew Mitsubishi and Nakajima and Kamikaze. Soryu, Hiryu, Zuikaku, Shokaku, Kaga, Akagi. Niitaka o noborimasu. But that was it. It was okay, though, because we were all human kids and we figured it out. Over the summer Kazuhiro's English got better, and so did ours. The one Japanese phrase I still remember is minikui obenjo. Go figure.
|Kazuhiro and Noodles the Bulldog in front of the ol' 930.|
|The Kazuhiro Kid atop Poke, with a couple of my brothers.|
Kazuhiro left at the end of summer. We were all going to write, but we never did.
When Kazuhiro visited our home the atom bombing of Nagasaki was only a quarter-century in the past. I knew a lot about it from reading. Kazuhiro didn't know much, or perhaps just wasn't saying. I don't know for sure whether his family lived in Nagasaki on August 9, but if they did, then his mom and dad survived being nuked. And had kids. Who didn't glow in the dark.
Scale, perspective and context. These are more than important, they are vital. We nuked Japan. It was a war, and not one of our choosing. Today Japan is vibrant and free and civilized. Countless little kids have been born in Nagasaki and Hiroshima since August, 1945. None of them glow in the dark. All of them have been free. And numberless children have been born across what was once known as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Between 1931-ish and September 1945 countless children died. The death of each was a crushing, horrific tragedy. Every. Single. One.
|Kazimiera Mika, 12, at the side of her sister Andzia, 14, killed by Luftwaffe strafing in Poland in September, 1939. Wikipaedia.|
Only the children are blameless. Only grownups can prevent slaughter.
There are millions upon millions of people with uninformed opinions and ill-conceived notions about everything under the sun. Some opine that their neighbors are nuclear mass murderers, though no one living today was in a position to make decisions regarding the fate of Japan at the close of WWII. Many are in love with the notion of loathing their neighbors, perhaps to support their own misinformed and uneducated self loathing. To espouse such opinions and notions is to practice selfishness at a monumental level.
The kind of selfishness that leads to war.
Far better to ask, "what can I do, right now, today, to treat my fellow humans as an end only, rather than a means to an end?"
It's the only solution.
But these are mere words. There must be deeds. And that is the reality of reality.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
I had a rant all set to go but it was doing actual damage to my heart and soul so I shitcanned it.
Let's put it this way.
In this nation the foundational principle is "...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights..."
That's it, top banana, number one principle. Without that principle as solid bedrock, everything else in the Declaration or in the Constitution is just so much spilled ink.
In the context of civilization and of the Liberty of human beings, the unwritten corollary to the first principle is none other than the Golden Rule, treat others as you would be treated. Or if you prefer this notion without the flavor of The Almighty, you can easily substitute Kant's categorical imperative and treat all men as an end only, and never as means to an end.
And so that's that. To be an American (to be a civilized human, really) one MUST recognize and believe that all men are created equal. That all men are human beings with the same fundamental human value. None are less human, none are more human. This means every single human being, not just one's friends and family and tribal members. All of 'em, even enemies. Especially enemies. Terrorists. Dictators. Murderers. Rapists. Lawyers. Used car salesmen. Journalists. Politicians.
If one decides that "those people" are really not human after all, then one is doing it wrong. Most importantly, one is destroying one's soul.
Now I know that we don't like such people. But we don't like them for their actions. Their fundamental humanity remains unchanged. For their uncivilized and inhumane actions they must be judged, by individuals and by society as a whole, and treated in the proper fashion.
But individuals and society cannot make such judgments and take such actions in a principled and civilized fashion unless they recognize the fundamental humanity at the core of the miscreant.
And perhaps more importantly, unless they treat the miscreant as they would be treated, as an end only, and not as a means to an end.
And note the language, please. As they would be treated, not as they'd like to be treated. As they would be treated, after hard thinking and deep reflection reveals to them what would be right, proper and just in the context of the first principle and of civilized behavior.
Hard thinking is hard work. It's also one of the most important responsibilities of the real American citizen. And it appears to be among the least practiced.
Now many people who live in this land have a different opinion. And as they will always say, they have a right to have a different opinion. They are correct.
But one cannot be an American unless one embraces the first principle. Period. It's not good enough to say it. One has to actually do it.
No human is perfect. We all stumble and fall. None of us, certainly not myself, have never treated others as objects, as things to be used, in a fashion by which we would not be treated, as a means to an end. But most of us -- every one of us who have the capacity to reason and be honest -- recognize that such behavior is wrong, and understand why it is wrong in the context of the first principle and of civilized behavior.
Now, in my opinion, our society would not be in the state it's in unless a large majority of the people who live here have cast aside any notion of being guided by the first principle. That is a very bad state of affairs.
The upside is that just as all humans are imperfect, so to do all humans have the capacity to see reason and to change course. And thanks to the giants who came before, upon whose shoulders we stand, we have a clear and reasoned set of guidelines to help steer us away from the rocks and shoals.
When I talk to people about the state of our society, most people shrug helplessly and say that they can't do anything at all to change things. That they're just one person. That it's the government, and you can't fight city hall.
Well, one can simply quit, as a clear majority have quit. Or one can get back in the fight. A good place to start -- the only place to start -- is the first principle.
Those who live in this country can either do that, or end up with one of these.
And then it'll be up to someone else to fight and die for the principles laid out in all that otherwise spilled ink.